As part of my library curriculum, March is “Spotlight on an Author” month. In the past I have read aloud many of the works of Eric Carle, Arnold Lobel and Marc Brown. This year, I decided to focus on Dr. Seuss, the master of rhyme, whimsical illustrations and imaginary creatures.
I read 12 Dr. Seuss books to my students over the course of a month, including; The Cat in the Hat, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?, Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!, Green Eggs and Ham, One fish two fish red fish blue fish, I Can Read with My Eyes Shut!, The Lorax, Dr. Seuss’s ABC, and The Foot Book.
“How silly! I like it!”
“This book is sooo long!”
“The Cat in the Hat is a bad cat.”
“I would tell my mom the truth.”
“That’s not a real ABC book. It’s got made up words.”
“It’s a tongue twister!”
“That’s too many words!”
“I will not eat them anywhere!”
In the age of Twitter, when anything important has to be said in 140 characters or less (check out Twitter’s fiction challenge #140novel), a Dr. Seuss book might seem wordy. But are my kindergarten students really that affected by Twitter and hashtags? Possibly. Apps at their fingertips provide instant gratification. Slice the fruit, get points! Throw the bird, the blocks fall down. Although my students enjoyed Dr. Seuss, I often had to stop in the middle for a seventh inning stretch to quell the wiggles.
Popular books from the last few years seem to have word conservation, a clear paring down of words to tell a story with minimalist precision. Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, with one tidy sentence per page; a wordless 2014 Caldecott Honor Book called Journey; and If You Want to See a Whale, a quiet tale that reads almost like a list, are only three among many examples of this popular trend.
But Dr. Seuss? Never has my tongue been twisted in so many knots!
By far, the most tricky (and most fun) of everything I read was Fox in Socks. It comes with a disclaimer on the cover that reads, “This is a book you READ ALOUD to find out just how smart your tongue is. The first itme you read it, don’t go fast! This Fox is a tricky fox. He’ll try to get your tongue in trouble.”
Try this one!
What do you know about tweetle beetles?
When tweetle beetles fight,
a tweetle beetle battle.
And when they battle in a puddle,
it’s a tweetle
beetle puddle battle.
AND when tweetle beetles
battle with a paddle in a puddle,
they call it a tweetle
beetle puddle paddle battle.
While my students were genuinely amused by the language, I watched their attention wander. And I want to be clear about this: I read with great enthusiasm. I do all the voices, and frequently act out the parts as well. Which got me thinking, are books written for a child in the 50s and 60s still relevant for a child in 2014? What has changed from then to now? In our exuberance for getting to the point, have we forgotten how to enjoy a wordy romp? Why read The Lorax, which is quite difficult, when you can watch the movie? The messages in the stories are timeless, but the method of attaining the message requires energy on the part of the reader. This energy, I feel, is essential to inspiring lifelong vigorous readers. If only half the energy is needed to extract meaning, will the message only be received in part as well?
I was pleased to know that my students were already familiar with Green Eggs and Ham. In fact, they recited the book along with me the whole time. While reading The Cat in the Hat, I remembered my mother refusing to put it in our collection at home, because the Cat was such a bad influence. He still is. Creating sound effects in Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? was a hoot, pun intended. The Lorax is classic and generates great conversations about protecting the environment, and Dr. Seuss’s ABC is delightfully unexpected.
Overall, my students enjoyed Dr. Seuss, and although I am still untying my tongue, I did too.
What’s your experience reading aloud to groups of kids? As a writer, do you worry about kids’ attention span? How do you hold their attention in an age of instant gratification? Is word conservation a trend of necessity or invention?